April 23 is World Book Day, a worldwide celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading, designated by UNESCO.
I sold my first book for $200. I was a kid who quit university to write. That was the start of my career, over 46 years ago. When I was writing my third book, we sold the car to pay the rent. That was the year I earned $587.63. Things have improved since then, but writers still face an uphill battle. Many I know still live hand to mouth in Canada, and I know some who will never have the security that the teachers who teach their work in classrooms have.
The first publisher I sent my first book to accepted it. I know that doesn’t happen to very many, but the chances are less today than before. Today one needs an agent, and the first thing an agent will ask you is, “We almost never take unpublished writers. Have you ever had anything published?” The first thing a publisher will say, “We take no unsolicited manuscripts, do you have an agent?”
I hate to say this, but few publishers have a great instinct for books and are often trying to acquire a manuscript that resembles last year’s best sellers. That’s why there are reading trends and crazes. But the best writing will last. Remember that many famous writers found it difficult to get their books published or even read. Yet some who died in obscurity are now household names.
Supporting local writers is a good way to start supporting Canadian literature, but there are many writers a Canadian could or should read. Munro and Atwood and Ondaatje of course; but MacLeod, Nowlan, Vanderhaeghe, Joel Hynes and Milton Acorn, are some other poets and novelists one should read. As for me, I keep on writing. A new book, Mary Cyr is out this month and I have another novel, a book of essays, and poems done.
David Adams Richards is a senator who represents New Brunswick. He is an acclaimed Canadian novelist, essayist, screenwriter and poet, whose commitment to the Miramichi River valley, his province, and the country is reflected in his body of work.